During the holiday period agriculture dominated the news headlines – for all the right reasons.
On call as NFF spokesperson I had a steady flow of journalists wanting to know more about this ‘golden era of agriculture’. A phrase coined by our Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture and Water Minister Hon Barnaby Joyce MP and it caught on.
And he’s not far wrong – things are looking pretty good.
Dams and soil moisture profiles are near full (in most regions). Beef, lamb, wool and pulse prices are robust. This year’s cotton and wheat hauls are for the record books.
We’re starting to see the fruits of free trade agreements with Japan, China and Korea. Export demand is also growing organically as Asia’s increasingly affluent middle class becomes hungrier for the safe, high quality produce we have to offer.
At the end of 2016 ABARES released the figures that confirmed it. The value of Australian farm production is set to tip $60 billion in 2015-16 – a new record.
Agriculture is now Australia’s second biggest export industry second only to iron ore and catching up fast. Farm exports were valued at $44.5 billion in 2015-16. Put simply farming is an economic powerhouse!
leaning on our status as an economic powerhouse – we’re asking Government to create a tax and regulatory environment that doesn’t create barriers to successFiona Simson, NFF President
I could not help but be swept up in this wave of enthusiasm for our sector and be buoyed that finally farmers are reaping the appropriate dividends for their efforts.
Rain not drought, prices deserving of the product on offer, fiscal flexibility are soup for the soul for us farmers!
However while speaking with the media I was asked ‘what are the issues for 2017?’ and this brought me down from my fluffy white cloud somewhat.
You see when times are good it is not the time for us, the National Farmers’ Federation, to rest on our laurels. We have a responsibility to ensure farmers can make the most of the favourable times they are operating in.
At the moment ag has the spotlight – and so we must seize the day. Now is the time to make the case for what farming needs to thrive.
And what we need is innovation and investment. We need telecommunications infrastructure that delivers farmers connectivity on par with their urban counterparts. New farm technologies represent the next frontier of productivity but if the required infrastructure isn’t there – we risk missing this opportunity.
We need big ticket ‘traditional infrastructure’ projects that maintain our competitive advantage in global markets. By this I mean we need investment in the roads and rail that link our farms to port. We also need a commitment to modernise our ports – both sea and air. Combined these will return value in the form of increased efficiencies to farmers. It will also undoubtedly open up new market opportunities.
(By the way what a great story to see Australian produce being freighted direct to market from regional airports now offering international services, such as Toowoomba – now that’s innovation - we need more of it I say.)
And leaning on our status as an economic powerhouse – we’re asking Government to create a tax and regulatory environment that doesn’t create barriers to success but instead rewards growth.
In 2017 the NFF will be making the case to our politicians for these investments and more.
The most important thing we need is something the sector can deliver ourselves – a united front. Agriculture is diverse, and as individual industries we are powerful but together we are formidable. Our advocacy on the backpacker tax proved this. In 2017 the National Farmers Federation will continue to lead an effort to develop a truly national, all-encompassing farmer representative body under the Australian Farmers banner.
So I believe the message is clear: while we bask in this golden era we must make hay while the sun shines - plant the seeds to take us through rainy days and onto the even brighter years which are no doubt ahead.
Fiona Simson was elected President of the National Farmers' Federation in November 2016.